Steve G 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
I wonder what it was like trying to get a film noticed in Japan during Akira Kurosawa's time.
Outside of our Letterboxd nerd circle, if you asked your average passive film fan to name a Japanese film from his era that wasn't made by him, the chances are they'd come up with a blank. The nearest they would probably get would be Harakiri, and some of them would probably assume, like I did for many years, that this was made by him too.
Which is obviously a huge compliment to Masaki Kobayashi's film, although I wonder if he would have taken it that way. It seems that it takes a film with as massive a critical reputation as Harakiri to emerge from Kurosawa's shadow and be embraced alongside the great man's very best work, which is unquestionably where it belongs.
I've not seen as many jidaigeki as many around here, but it seems unlikely that I could ever see anything as detailed about this period of Japanese history as you get here. Simultaneously a dissection of and love letter to ceremony and honour while also slowly and quietly creating a riveting central story from a couple of different perspectives, all done through the showmanship storytelling of ronin and samurai, Harakiri has everything you could want from such a film.
It never feels slow even though there's very little action because it's constantly progressing the story and characters. The use of flashback, even when it's unreliable, is masterful and never disorientating. The performances are strong and subtle and, most importantly of all, it normalises the hacking off of topknots.
When I watch a *really* great film, I always place it at 4.5 stars, write the review, and see if I can weed out anything about it I didn't care for before occasionally bumping it up to a 5. Harakiri was a 5 from start to finish.